In the Autobiography of Malcolm X, Malcolm X discusses his discovery of the hairstyle called a "conk" when he is living in Roxbury, an African American neighborhood of Boston. He sees that many African American men straighten their hair through this process so that they appear to look more like white men. He later receives a conk himself, which he finds very painful.
He writes, "This was really my first big step towards self-degradation: when I endured all of that pain, literally burning my flesh to have it look like a white man's hair" (56). Malcolm X associates the conk with self-debasement because African American people endure pain to meet white beauty standards. He finds it degrading that they destroy their bodies to try to look like whites and, in the process, ignore their own beauty. He believes that it is part of the process of "brainwashing," in his words, that African Americans receive by which they begin to believe what is white is beautiful. In making themselves look more white, African Americans debase themselves.